Diverse decisions. How culture affects ethical decision making.

F. Wright, S. Cohen, C. Caroselli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Even under optimal conditions, assisting patients and families in making ethical decisions is difficult at best. Often these decisions revolve around the end-of-life issues that require acknowledgement that the patient is unlikely to survive, which may be perceived as a failure to both the family and the staff. At the very least, it can be a sad time, fraught with uncertainty and indecision. When these difficulties are coupled with ineffective communication related to cultural insensitivity or unawareness, the effects can be devastating to the decision-making process. All CCNs are expected to master the skills necessary for assisting patients and families through the harrowing experience of life-threatening illness. Whereas much of critical care focuses on managing pathophysiologic disturbances, emotional needs are equally important. It follows then that the CCN must assume responsibility for assisting patients and families in coping with the crisis of critical illness and working through ethical issues, which often include end-of-life decisions and organ donation. Culturally competent care is required when addressing patient needs holistically, but it is so much more. It is an opportunity to enrich and deepen the CCN/patient/family relationship, advocate for the patient, and broaden the opportunities for communication among staff. This article has provided some beginning steps for increasing nursing cultural awareness and has offered some initial strategies to consider when designing a plan of care. Through continuing efforts, CCNs and organizations can do much to decrease the alienation that many patients and families have traditionally encountered in the CCU, an estrangement that is exacerbated when their culture is different from the predominant culture of the unit. The effort to become more culturally aware may appear to require extraordinary effort; however, the rewards of optimizing patient care are unsurpassed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-74
Number of pages12
JournalCritical care nursing clinics of North America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care


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